I love Christmas. It’s my second-favorite holiday. Even though our finances are tighter now than they have ever been before, I still enjoy the feeling the holiday brings. I’m entering a new phase now, too: the mother of a child who is excited about each new thing he learns about Christmas. From the Christmas lights to the advent wreath to the unwrapping of gifts, he’s finally at an age to see the wonder of it all. I hope that he will grow up looking forward to our traditions the way I looked forward to my family’s traditions growing up.
My mom is Danish and my dad is American, so our Christmases were always a bit unique and different from the traditions I heard about from my peers. To put it simply, Christmas Eve was Danish and Christmas Day was American.
But the simple explanation is boring and not very informative.
In Denmark, the biggest Christmas festivities take place on Christmas Eve. My parents continued that tradition in our home here in Utah. I remember spending the entire day of December 24th in excited anticipation. In the afternoon my mom would start preparing dinner while the rest of us finished wrapping gifts. At 5 o’clock or so, we sat down for a Christmas feast of pork roast, boiled potatoes, gravy, and red cabbage (for those who liked it, which I did not). We all enjoyed eating the crunchy pork rind—the real stuff, not the pale imitation you can buy in the snack aisle at the store. I still remember the smells, the sounds, the tastes. After dinner, we ate rice pudding for dessert. A whole almond was stirred into the pudding and whoever found the almond in his or her bowl got a prize. Traditionally, the prize is a marzipan pig, but in our house it was usually some kind of chocolate.
Once the dishes were done, we gathered around the tree and sang Christmas carols. Sometimes my dad read the account of the birth of Christ from Luke 2. We ended by singing “Silent Night.” Then came the part we were all waiting for: we opened all of the presents under the tree. Every single one. They were the presents from our parents, siblings, and friends. Most of the time, I received at least one book. Every year, one of the presents was a new pair of pajamas. I’m sure most people can relate to that part.
We changed into our pajamas and went to bed, perhaps reading a new book before falling asleep. Since we had just opened a lot of presents, we didn’t wake up until 7 or 8 the next morning. I’ve never quite understood the intense excitement that had my friends waking up at 4 or 5 o’clock. If we woke up before 8, we stayed in our rooms, playing with our new toys or reading those all-important books until our parents came to get us. Then our American Christmas Day began.
We rushed to the Christmas tree to see what Santa Claus had brought us. Each of us received two or three gifts from Santa. Once all of these presents were opened, we checked our stockings to see what else Santa had brought, plus how much chocolate he had given us. I’m not sure why it’s so exciting to find an orange at the bottom of the stocking, but I know it is. I feel disappointed if it’s missing.
By then breakfast was ready. One year my mom made an egg, cheese, and sausage casserole and we liked it so much, it became a yearly tradition. We ate our breakfast and drank hot chocolate, then dug into our candy. Some years we went to our paternal grandparents’ house or our aunt’s house to spend the day with my dad’s side of the family, opening more presents and eating another big dinner. If we didn’t do that, we would watch movies or play games together all day.
As I’ve gotten older, I care less about the presents and more about the traditions. I’m blessed to have a husband who is not only willing but eager to carry on the Danish-American traditions of my childhood. We are also working to create new traditions of our own. This year, with our financial circumstances, I find myself thinking more and more about Jesus Christ and how He wants our family to celebrate this holiday. I enjoy coming up with creative ideas for gifts and decorations that won’t cost extra money. Most importantly, it warms my heart to teach my children what Christmas is all about and to see their faces light up with every new experience. I hope I can continue to see Christmas this way, no matter what life brings for us next.
Originally Published December 2017